Bangor city engineer Jim Ring sets sail for retirement

Posted Feb. 17, 2011, at 11:21 p.m.
Bangor City Engineer Jim Ring in 2009
Bangor City Engineer Jim Ring in 2009

BANGOR,  Maine — City engineer Jim Ring’s mark on Bangor over the last 38 years is indelible.

It’s also largely invisible.

The city’s sewer and water lines, its wastewater infrastructure, its roads, bridges and sidewalks, and nearly every municipal building that has been renovated have Ring’s fingerprints. Nowhere is his work more evident than on Bangor’s waterfront, which has undergone a renaissance in the last decade under Ring’s watch and is now the city’s most prized asset.

His colleagues will tell you that he’s the hardest worker at City Hall and has been for years. He’s notoriously difficult to find in his office because he’s always out doing something.

Right now, he’s hard to reach because he’s on a cruise somewhere much warmer than Bangor. The good news is, he doesn’t have to return anytime soon.

Ring said goodbye to colleagues earlier this week, stepping down after nearly four decades as a municipal employee, a career that included a stint as public works director and later as city engineer.

Bangor City Manager Catherine Conlow drew attention to Ring’s retirement at a City Council meeting earlier this week to remind residents of his contributions. Ring sat uncomfortably while the entire room stood and clapped.

“I couldn’t fly under the radar tonight?” he said once the applause stopped and he approached the podium. “Well, what started as a temporary job in 1972 turned into a pretty great career.”

Former Bangor City Manager Ed Barrett, who worked alongside Ring for 22 years, said his former colleague was tireless but also pragmatic.

“He saved the city literally millions of dollars over the years,” said Barrett, who is now city administrator in Lewiston.

Most municipalities don’t even have a full-time engineer. When Conlow was town manager of nearby Orono, she often crossed paths with Ring during regional transportation discussions. When she came to Bangor, she saw his diligence more frequently.

“He has always been a formidable advocate for Bangor,” she said. “I joked that I would be hanging on his leg when he left here.”

For the time being, longtime engineer department staffer Art Morgan has been named interim city engineer, but the city is looking for Ring’s full-time replacement. The engineering department has a full-time staff of 10 employees and also oversees the harbor master and assistant harbor master, which are seasonal positions.

One of Barrett’s favorite Jim Ring stories came in 1988, shortly after Barrett arrived, when Ring was public works director.

“He came to my office and said, ‘You’ve got to come see this,’” Barrett recalled.

The two went out to one of Bangor’s streets to watch a street-sweeper in action. Because of a mechanical malfunction, the sweeper was being towed down the street by a dump truck. Not only that, but the water system didn’t work, so in front of that was a water truck. Three city vehicles were performing a task that should have been done by one.

“Bangor has come a long way since,” Barrett said.

If there was a question that needed answering about an element of Bangor’s past, Ring was the go-to guy, especially after Barrett left.

With Ring gone, Conlow said, she is looking to reconfigure the department slightly because “he’s too hard to replace.”

Added Barrett: “He had to be run out of the office; he would come in when he was sick. He was so committed, if anything to his personal detriment.”

Now, Ring won’t have to chase contractors, sit through long City Council meetings, and pore over pages and pages of city records, architectural designs and surveys and extensive bid proposals.

He said he will, however, miss working with residents.

“I always tried to help them out as much as I could,” Ring said.

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